Hard lessons I learned evolving from a technologist to an entrepreneur.
I have been a technologist for a little more than a decade. Last year, I started building muHive, a customer engagement platform on web. Even though I have the technology bit more than covered, my roles and responsibilities pushed me to evolve from a technologist to that of an entrepreneur. In this post, I will try and share a little bit of my journey and the learning I have had so far.
One of the earliest learnings I had was to stop looking at everything as a technology problem. It is what comes naturally to hackers. When it comes to starting up a product company, there are a fair number of occasions when you will use technology to solve problems, but most of the times times, I have found that problems will be because of one of four things
Understanding the category of the problem you are facing can go a long way in your startup career.
When I started up, I had very little idea about how Sales and Marketing initiatives were planned and executed. The idea of “build it and they will come” doesn’t work in the real world.
One of the words I started to hear very early on was “traction”, and no amount was enough; everybody expected a different kind of it.
I must say I underestimated Marketing. As a technologist, I used to live the world of content distribution networks (CDNs) but only now I realize that using a good distribution channel for the content I write goes so much beyond how the content gets distributed. Writing targeted content — for the right purpose, the right audience and the right channel — has become a part of my everyday job.
I learned how to detect spam during my masters. Ironically, this gives me the unique ability to create content (distributed via mails, blogs and videos) that I know won’t be categorized as spam. But the problem here was much bigger i.e. stickiness. I had to learn to write content that people could come back to, over and over. It was a different style of writing, focusing on value and trying to capture emotion.
Think big, act small … A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step … This is more than true in the world of startups. For example: I have about 300+ listed to-do items. In my current role, I have to think about long term strategies, but one can only work on small achievable tasks. Breaking up of the EPIC goals into small actionable tasks, which could be executed and analyzed, was something that I learned along the way.
I have also come to realize that in startups, especially the ones strapped for cash, it is better to plan bottom up so that tomorrow, say I plan for a “1 million eyeballs in a month” campaign, I have a clear idea of what I need to do to get there.
As a former employee, who received his salary at the end of the month, understanding the nature of business, sustainability and growth from the other side has been a big challenge. I must admit, I haven’t truly figured out the magic formula as yet. But I am more knowledgeable than I ever was in this pursuit.
Everything from managing finance, compliance and audit requirements to legal processes which include contracts, NDAs and usage policies, are stuff an entrepreneur needs to pick up. Sagar, muHive co-founder, and I took a call to only concentrate on product development and adoption activities, and decided to delegate other activities to service providers. My advice to wanna-preneurs - make a list of all the items that are needed for managing a Private Limited company and tick off all the stuff that you can delegate before starting one. Incubators and startup communities are the places where you will find these answers.
Probably the biggest learning I have had is the ability to network with people. In my entire experience as an employee in the IT industry, primarily working in the IT services sector, I was confined to speaking/interacting with a small number of colleagues. Even though I am not an introvert, I never expected what it takes to walk up and talk to complete strangers at events. I spoke to more people in the first 5 months of starting up than in the past 5 years of my working in the industry. And my personal network has grown significantly.
I remember feeling odd attending my first startup event where random people started approaching me with their visiting cards. Little did I realize, I would be doing the exact same thing in a couple of months.
I will conclude by saying that the transition isn’t easy but it is a lot of fun. I read someplace that entrepreneurship is like trying to assemble a parachute after jumping off a plane, and I find this definition rather apt. The job demands that you play multiple roles. No job is too small and there is, literally, no one you can delegate work to. But there is a joy in waking up every morning and going to work. And that makes it all worth it.